Embracing Hybridity

A hybrid is something that is mixed, and hybridity is simply mixture. In the context of online education where the walls of the classroom are within the boundaries of a learning management system, Hybridity becomes a conversation between our roles as teachers and students and our identities that emerge in our social media spaces. I want to amplify the voices of the Hybrid Pedagogy Journal that proclaims that "Hybridity" is foundational to teaching and learning. The digital adds a layer to learning that is ubiquitous and therefore online identities and spaces become imperative to examine and to embrace. Sean Micheal Morris declares in What is digital Pedagogy? that

“All learning is necessarily hybrid”.

If we consider the online spheres we inhabit both personally and professionally we have an opportunity to make good use of them. I appreciate the question brought forth in Hybridity 3: What Does Hybrid Pedagogy Do? by Jesse Stommel where he invites us to consider the possibility of finding value in embracing our digital spaces:

“Will we make something valuable from the collective intelligence of the web, or will we be swept along by its numbing flow?”

As a designer of digital learning spaces in higher education, I am interested in the hybridity of our lives, the intersection of the roles we play at our institutions and the networked identities that emerge with intentional use of social media. This stems from a growing pressure on institutions of higher education to educate students for the future and to create responsible digital citizens.  Bonnie Stewart, an educator and researcher who inspires my thinking, explains that this means designing differentiated and networked instruction that requires moving into open and networked digital spaces. But Institutions also face the pressure to evaluate and assess student learning as well as measure institutional rank.  This leads to Bonnie's most important questions:

How do we map networked systems of literacies over systems of education?
What does that look like?
Can many-to-many communications co-exist with hierarchical organization structures?

The answer is yes. Bonnie Stewart shares how this can look in her recent keynote at eLearning 2016: Education in Abundance: Networked Literacies and Learning.  She suggests we do not simply add technology to our classroom instruction or simply post articles in an LMS, but that we build networked learners because networked learners contribute to the abundance of knowledge.

“How we think about learning shapes what we can do with education”
”How we think about tools shapes what we can do with them” ~ Bonnie Stewart

I believe teaching how to be a networked digital citizen is an imperative endeavor because it strengthens students existing digital identities and invites contribution and collaboration to the abundance of knowledge found on the web. Networked learning means shifting from a focus on “content and consumption” to viewing the web as a social connected space.  A responsibility arises to differentiate between the roles we play at the institution and the networked identities that emerge in our social media spaces.  

Bonnie outlines 3 literacies to develop a networked identity:

  1. Digital Identity

  2. Contribution

  3. Connection.

Digital identity is reputation built over repeated interactions. It scaffolds, extends conversation and resource shares. Contribution, allows learners to be productive residents in a world of knowledge abundance. Connection gives students a learning space with an audience. Faculty and designers can guide networked learning activities with questions such as:

What kinds of conversations do you want to have access to?
What audience do you want for your learners, what audiences matter to them?
What do you and your learners have to offer that is not being seen right now?

Embracing hybridity requires connecting beyond the walls of the LMS (Learning Management System).  It occurs when we incorporate social media into classroom spaces. It invites us to consider a pedagogy that moves from simply placing content online or engaging in an asynchronous forum within an LMS to designing learning spaces that allow for discovery, connectivity and developing a network. This vision allows for ideas to emerge, be built upon and become inter-connected. 

I love Sean Micheal Morris’s declaration in What is digital pedagogy?:

“When we teach digitally, walls become arbitrary.”

This supports my call for educators I work with to embrace hybridity. Digital and network tools connect people, if we let them.  It is time for me to negotiate new policies that allow for use of social media in the digital spaces of my institution. I am faced with campus administrators whose concern is that open, networked pathways of learning will lead to faculty & students sharing inappropriate information including Patient Health Information (PHI) or personal information of students that violates FERPA regulations. My strategy thus far and with colleagues, is to create a culture of compliance where due diligence to educate what is and is not appropriate will provide the parameters needed to calm fears. My hope is that the combination of students' signing a disclosure statement, allowing students to opt out of social media assignments and an option to use a pseudonym, will open the doors to using social mediums outside of the walls of the institution. This brave new classroom requires a digital pedagogy to guide its use and its design. I am in the throes of embracing a critical digital pedagogy to support this endeavor. When digital learning spaces are designed to be adaptable and networked, it empowers students to use the web to support their learning. 

It’s a brave new world and it’s time to embrace it.